Chicago

Jun Kaneko

Klein Art Works

Jun Kaneko’s ceramic sculptures mix a reverence for tradition with a keen pursuit of the revolutionary. That is, Kaneko continues to make large, sometimes functional plates and platters, and all his sculptures are formed of glazed stoneware, their shimmering surfaces obscuring the baked clay beneath. The glazes tend to remain within the quiet gray/white/brown/black range, with a deep-porcelain blue the only emphatic chromatic element. But Kaneko’s most characteristic interest seems to be to extend, rather than affirm, the possibilities and traditions of ceramic sculpture. In terms of scale, these works break with the ceramic tradition’s legacy of delicacy, conveying a more dynamic materiality.

In this exhibition, Kaneko showed four Dangos (the term is derived from the Japanese for “dumpling”), part of a series the artist has been working on for over a decade, which includes 11-foot-high pieces that, though hollow, can weigh thousands of pounds. Created of slab after slab of thick clay slowly kneaded together into massive, aloof, almost slumbering cylindrical forms, these monumental works sometimes recall the heads found on Easter Island. (Although Kaneko lives and works in Omaha, one of the only kilns in America large enough to slow-fire these clay stele for the months-long period required is in California.)

Kaneko paints and decorates the surfaces of his Dangos in a playful, almost geometrical abstraction. Grids start to wobble, rows of dots begin to meander, stripes accrete in seeming monotony. The blue dots that scatter across the surface of Dango (94-11-4), 1994, leaking trails of blue paint onto its white surface, scrupulously cover all the parts of the piece while still appearing arbitrary, thereby defusing its monumentality. In Dango (95-2-22), 1995, Kaneko alternates stripes of highly reflective steel-gray and black glaze with the interstices made up of the gray slip that rests just above the clay. The reddish color that seems to permeate the glaze is produced through Kaneko’s signature technique of “striking,” in which a matte and a glossy glaze in “fighting” for air during firing produce a red background. Kaneko’s stripes, like the bands of clay beneath them, in bringing structure, decoration, rhythm, and a regularity of scale to these tender monoliths provide a tempo and a sense of pattern that suggest the hand of the artist.

James Yood